Discussing Adoption and Infertility With Your Partner
by Russell Webb
Question: "We are an infertile couple and I'm ready to adopt, but my husband is reluctant. How can I convince him that adoption is a great way to build a family?"
This is a very difficult question to answer. There are so many possibilities of what could be going on to cause this type of dynamic within your relationship. Before the women's movement of the 60’s and 70’s, the roles of men and women in relationships were more clearly defined according to gender (whether we agreed with them or not). The man was to work to provide for his wife and children and the woman was to stay at home and tend to the home and children.
The changing roles of women over the last 50 years has called for a change in the roles of men. As much as women have broadened their concept of acceptable feminine roles, men have generally been slower in defining a broader range of acceptable masculine roles. Thus, having children has typically been (again, whether we like it or not) a woman’s issue and role. Today however, women desire men take on more, with respect to children, but men for the most part have not had role model fathers who participated greatly in the area of children. So, for some men it may be a challenge to their own personal definitions of what is masculine.
However, this only partially addresses the question. It may be valuable to consider some questions to look at possible dynamics within your relationship.
First, could it be that your husband has not had enough time to grieve and accept all of the losses associated with infertility?
Is he the one who is diagnosed as infertile?
Could it be that talking about having children through adoption re-invokes the personal pain of not completing his unspoken marital contract of giving you children?
Does approaching him with adoption make him feel like a failure in providing you with children?
Or does your relationship have the dynamic that you try to balance each other?
Does your acceleration towards adoption coincide with him putting on the brakes?
It may be that if your husband has not grieved the loss of the child he never knew, pursuing another child through adoption may cause feelings of disloyalty or disrespect to his biological child he never met. He has strong allegiances to his biological child, and to ask him to drop those for pursuing another child may be unacceptable at this time. Many men connect with the concept of lineage or blood line and may see adoption as not a viable way of extending their own personal heritage. Not addresses these issues and trying to convince your husband of the fabulous merits of adoption may only emotionally entrap him all the more.
I would probably start with talking about children in general and what his fantasies were regarding his own children. Most men have a picture of themselves as fathers with a son or daughter that they see themselves interacting with – teaching a son to catch a baseball, etc. These images may invoke grief and loss, but also much needed discussion about hopes, dreams, and personal meanings and purposes for the future.
Instead of trying to convince him of adoption, try hearing him out regarding his own personal emotional journey with infertility. It will take you farther than trying to talk only about "solutions". Having your husband talk with other men who have adopted or going to a presentation on adoption may facilitate greater discussion in your own relationship regarding adoption. Counselling can be very helpful in facilitating greater discussion and getting to what the real issues may be.
As much as we have looked at your husband, the other part to consider is yourself. What is happening for you? Could it be that you are trying to "push" adoption in order have a solution to your own infertility? As much as adoption is a wonderful way to have a family, the children of adoption can never take the place of the biological children you could not have. It simply is not fair to the child or to the parents. Only you can know for sure that the reason you are trying to convince him of adoption is not out of the hopelessness of not having your own biological children. Some things can not be rushed and different people have different speeds of processing and working through issues. You do not want to go too fast and build resentment in your relationship because it was not a joint decision. Proceed, but with care and caution. Focus on feelings and meanings not solutions.
Russell Webb is a Marriage and Family Therapist who works for the Tumbler Ridge Assessment and Resource Service. He and his wife Tina, have 2 children through open adoptions. You can reach them through email at email@example.com.
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